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Honda: Redesigned Civic improves on perfection

Wednesday, October 12, 2005 By Donald I. Hammonds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

You don't usually mess with an automotive legend.

Honda did. And it looks like they did the right thing with the all-new 2006 Honda Civic.

Civic is THE car for Honda. It put them on the automotive map when it was introduced in 1973. Since that time, some 16 million people globally and 7 million in the United States have purchased the sedan.

But the last generation of Civic, while well-built, highly reliable and fun to drive, was apparently a disappointment to Honda executives, who thought it lacked character, style and performance.

So it was out with the old, and in with the new 2006 model.

Honda has introduced four totally new models including a beautiful -- and powerful -- Civic Si Coupe, the economical Civic Hybrid sedan, and the bread and butter Civic Coupe and Sedan models.

During presentation of the new Civics to the media at an unveiling in Chicago, much emphasis was placed on "emotion" -- being able to make a visceral connection with buyers who will not only appreciate their Civic, but love it.

To that end, Honda gave the new line some of the best styling in the compact car field, including a cab forward design that brings an airiness to both the profile and to the interior of the car. Honda calls it a "one motion profile" and it looks as if it were one integrated, sleek styling stroke. The amount of overhang both front and rear has been dramatically reduced, thus resulting in a more aggressive, ready for action profile.

Inside, there's a new two-tier instrument panel that puts some of the more used gauges, such as the speedometer, in the top tier and other controls and gauges in the lower tier.

This design will take some getting used to and was the target of complaints by many journalists at the presentation. The design is exciting and futuristic, but I also had great difficulty seeing the top tier of gauges without peering over my steering wheel, which gets to be old.

On the other hand, there have been a ton of advances incorporated into the new Civic, including a safety system that provides extra protection up front; standard front, side and side curtain air bags; active head restraints; the availability of a navigation system for the first time on a Civic; an optional XM Satellite radio system and tilt and telescoping wheels.

But the star of the line will be the sleek, sexy Civic Si Coupe. This is the 20th year for this model, and Honda is celebrating by bringing back the original coupe and dropping the hatchback from the lineup. It's powered by a 197 horsepower VTEC four cylinder engine that is fast as greased lightning, and has an aggressive roar on the road.

Only a six-speed manual transmission is available -- a mistake in my view. Most performance cars now come with either stick or manual, and Honda's alienating a lot of potential customers by offering only a manual.

The Hybrid Sedan has a 110 horsepower, 1.3 liter VTECV-four combined with a 15 Kilowatt electric motor. Many changes have been made to the system, including the addition of a lighter, more powerful and efficient Integrated Motor Assist System, with much improved energy regeneration ability and electric only operation.

Honda says the car will get 50 miles per gallon both in the city and on the highway. But I'd be a little skeptical of that figure. Your ability to actually get that figure will depend on your driving style and abilities more than the car itself.

The distinctive features of the Hybrid include the availability of a two-tone seating surface, a different instrument panel -- though still two tiered -- and wheels that are designed to be aerodynamic. I didn't care for the appearance of those wheels, though. They looked too much like flat, unsightly old hubcaps from days gone by.

Prices start around $14,000 for the Civic, with Si prices starting at around $19,000. The Hybrid starts at about $21,000.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Honda: Redesigned Civic improves on perfection
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